Ptolemy's Letter to Flora
The Law was ordained through Moses, my dear sister Flora, has not been understood by
many persons, who have accurate knowledge neither of him who ordained it nor of its
commandments. I think that this will be perfectly clear to you when you have learned the
contradictory opinions about it.
Some say that it is legislation given by God the Father; others, taking the contrary
course, maintain stubbornly that it was ordained by the opposite, the Devil who causes
destruction, just as they attribute the fashioning of the world to him, saying that he is
the Father and maker of this universe. Both are completely in error; they refute each
other and neither has reached the truth of the matter.
For it is evident that the Law was not ordained by the perfect God the Father, for it
is secondary, being imperfect and in need of completion by another, containing
commandments alien to the nature and thought of such a God.
On the other hand, one cannot impute the Law to the injustice of the opposite, God, for
it is opposed to injustice. Such persons do not comprehend what was said by the Savior. For
a house or city divided against itself cannot stand [Matt 12:25], declared our
Savior. Furthermore, the apostle says that creation of the world is due to him, for Everything
was made through him and apart from him nothing was made. [John 1:3] Thus he takes
away in advance the baseless wisdom of the false accusers, and shows that the creation is
not due to a God who corrupts but to the one who is just and hates evil. Only
unintelligent men have this idea, men who do not recognize the providence of the creator
and have blinded not only the eye of the soul but also of the body.
From what has been said, it is evident that these persons entirely miss the truth; each
of the two groups has experienced this, the first because they do not know the God of
justice, the second because they do not know the Father of all, who alone was revealed by
him who alone came. It remainds for us who have been counted worthy of the knowledge of
both these to provide you with an accurate explanation of the nature of the Law and the
legislator by whom it was ordained. We shall draw the proofs of what we say from the words
of the Savior, which alone can lead us without error to the comprehension of reality.
First, you must learn that the entire Law contained in the Pentateuch of Moses was not
ordained by one legislator - I mean, not by God alone, some commandments are Moses', and
some were given by other men. The words of the Savior teach us this triple division. The
first part must be attributed to God alone, and his legislation; the second to Moses - not
in the sense that God legislates through him, but in the sense that Moses gave some
legislation under the influence of his own ideas; and the third to the elders of the
people, who seem to have ordained some commandments of their own at the beginning. You
will now learn how the truth of this theory is proved by the words of the Savior.
In some discussion with those who dispute with the Savior about divorce, which was
permitted in the Law, he said Because of your hard-heartedness Moses permitted a man
to divorce his wife; from the beginning it was not so; for God made this marriage, and
what the Lord joined together, man must not seperate. [Matt 19:8] In this way he
shows there is a Law of God, which prohibits the divorce of a wife from a husband, and
another law, that of Moses, which permits the breaking of this yoke because of
hard-heartedness. In fact, Moses lays down legislation contrary to that of God; for
joining is contrary to not joining.
But if we examine the intention of Moses in giving this legislation, it will be seen
that he did not give it arbitrarily or of his own accord, but by the necessity because of
the weakness of those for whom the legislation was given. Since they were unable to keep
the intention of God, according to which it was not lawful for them to reject their wives,
with whom some of them disliked to live, and therefore were in the danger of turning to
greater injustice and thence to destruction, Moses wanted to remove the cause of dislike,
which was placing them in jeopardy of destruction. Therefore because of the critical
circumstances, choosing a lesser evil in place of a greater, he ordained, on his own
accord, a second law, that of divorce, so that if they could not observe the first, they
might keep this and not turn to unjust and evil actions, through which complete
destruction would be the result for them. This was his intention when he gave legislation
contrary to that of God. Therefore it is indisputeable that here the law of Moses is
different from the Law of God, even if we have demonstrated the fact from only one
The Savior also makes plain the fact that there are some traditions of the elders
interwoven in the Law. For God,he says, Said, Honour your father and your
mother, that it may be well with you, But you , he says addressing the elders, ...have
declared as a gift to God, that by which you have nullified the Law of God through the
tradition of your elders. Isaiah also proclaimed this, saying, This people
honours me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, teaching precepts which are
the commandments of men. [Matt 15:4-9].
Therefore it is obvious that the whole Law is divided into three parts; we find in it
the legislation of Moses, of the elders, and of God himself. This division of the entire
Law, as made by us, has brought to light what is true in it.
This part, the Law of God himself, is in turn divided into three parts: the pure
legislation not mixed with evil, which properly called Law, which the Savior came
not to destroy but to complete [Matt 5:17] -- for what he completed was not alien to him
but needed completion, for it did not possess perfection; next the legislation interwoven
with the inferiority and injustice, which the Savior destroyed because it was alien to his
nature; and finally, the legislation which is allegorical and symbolic, an image of what
is spiritual and transcendent, which the Saviour transferred from the perceptible and
phenomenal to the spiritual and invisible.
The Law of God, pure and not mixed with inferiority, is the Decalogue, those ten
sayings engraved on two tables, forbidding things not to be done and enjoining things to
be done. These contains pure but imperfect legislation and required the completion made by
There is also the law interwoven with injustice, laid down for vengeance and the
requital of previous injuries, ordaining that an eye should be cut out for an eye, and a
tooth for a tooth, and that a murder should be avenged by a murderer. The person who is
the second one to be unjust is no less unjust than the first; he simply changes the order
of events while performing the same action. Admittedly, this commandment was a just one
and still is just, because of the weakness of those for whom the legislation was made so
thay would not transgress the pure law. But it is alien to the nature and goodness of the
Father of all. No doubt it was appropiate to the circumstances, or even necessary; for he
who does not want one murder comitted, saying, You shall not kill and then
commanded a murder to be repaid by another murder, has given a second law which enjoins
two murders although he had forbidden one. This fact proves that he was unsuspectingly the
victim of necessity.
This is why, when his son came, he destroyed this part of the law while admitting that
it came from God. He counts this part of the law as in the old religion, not only in other
passages but also where he said, God said, He who curses father or mother shall surely
Finally, there is the allegorical (exemplary) part, ordained in the image of the
spiritual and trascendent matters, I mean the part dealing with offerings and circumcision
and the sabbath and fasting and Passover and unleavened bread and other similar matters.
Since all these things are images and symbols, when the truth was made manifest they
were translated to another meaning. In their phenomenal appearance and their literal
application they were destroyed, but in their spiritual meaning they were restored; the
names remained the same but the content was changed. Thus the Savior commaned us to make
offerings not of irrational animals or of the incense of this worldly sort, but of
spiritual praise and glorification and thanksgiving and of sharing and well-doing with our
neighbors. He wanted us to be circumcised, not in regard to our physical foreskin but in
regard to our spiritual heart; to keep the Sabbath, for he wishes us to be idle in regard
to evil works; to fast, not in physical fasting but in spiritual, in which there is
abstinence from everything evil.
Among us external fasting is also observed, since it can be advantageous to the soul if
it is done reasonably, not for imitating others or from habit or because of a special day
appointed for this purpose. It is also observed so that those who are not yet able to keep
the true fast may have a reminder of it from the external fast. Similarely, Paul the
apostle shows that the Passover and the unleavened bread are images when he says, Christ
our passover has been sacrificed, in order that you may be unleavened bread, not
containing leaven (by leaven he here means evil), but may be a new lump. [1 Cor 5:7]
Thus the Law of God itself is obviously divided into three parts. The first was
completed by the Savior, for the commandment, You shall not kill , You shall not
commit adultery, you shall not swear falsely are included in the forbiding of anger,
desire and swearing. The second part was entirely destroyed, for An eye for an eye and
a tooth for a tooth interwoven in with injustice, was destroyed by the Savior through
its opposite. Opposites cancel out, For I say to you, do not resist the evil man, but
if anyone strikes you, turn the other cheek to him.
Finally, there is the part translated and changed from the literal to the spiritual,
this symbolic legislation which is an image of transcendent things. For the images and
symbols which represent other things were good as long as the Truth has not come; but
since the Truth has come, we must perform the actions of the Truth, not those of the
The disciples of the Savior and the Apostle Paul showed that this theory is true,
speaking of the part dealing with images, as we have already said, in mentioning The
passover for us and the Unleavened bread; for the law interwoven with
injustice when he says that the law of commandments in ordinances were destroyed [Eph 2:15]; and of that not mixed with anything inferior when he says that The law is
holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good [Rom 7:12]. I think I have shown
you sufficiently, as well as one can in brief compass, the addition of human legislation
in the Law and the triple division of the Law of God itself.
It remains for us to say who this God is who ordained the Law; but I think this too has
been shown you in what we have already said, if you have listened to it attentively.
For if the Law was not ordained by the perfect God himself, as we have already thaught
you, nor by the devil, a statement one cannot possibly make, the legislator must be some
one other than these two. In fact, he is the demiurge and maker of this universe and
everything in it; and because he is essentially different from these two and is between
them, he is rightly given the name, intermediate.
And if the perfect God is good by nature, in fact he is, for our Savior declared that
there is only a single good God, his Father whom he manifested; and if the one who is the
opposite nature is evil and wicked, characterized by injustice; then the one situated
between the two is neither good nor evil or unjust, but can properly be called just, since
he is the arbitrator of the justice which is his.
On the one hand, this god will be inferior to the perfect God and the lower than his
justice, since he is generated and not ungenerated -- there is only one ungenerated
Father, from whom are all things [1 Cor 8:6], since all things depend on him in their own
ways. On the other hand, he will be greater and more powerful than the adversary, by
nature, since he has a substance of either of them. The substance of the adversary is
corruption and darkness, for he is material and complex, while the substance of the
ungenerated Father of all is incorruption and self-existent light, simple and homogeneous.
The substance of the latter produced a double power, while the Savior is an image of the
And now, do not let this trouble you for the present in your desire to learn how from
one first principle of all, simple, and acknowledgedby us and believed by us, ungenerated
and incorruptible and good, were constituted these natures of corruption and the Middle,
which are different substances, although it is characteristic of the good to generate and
produce things which are like itself and have the same substance.
For, if God permit, you will later learn about their origin and generation, when you
are judged worthy of the apostolic tradition which we too have received by succession. We
too are able to prove all our points by the teaching of the Savior.
In making these brief statements to you, my sister Flora, I have not grown weary; and
while I have treated the subject with brevity, I have also discussed it sufficiencly.
These points will be of great benefit to you in the future, if like fair and good ground
you have received fertile seeds and go on to show forth their fruit.